Sarah Calder is studying Civil Engineering at Warwick University and has been awarded a Surrey Scholar bursary by Bachy Soletanche Limited who have an office in Camberley. Bachy is one of the UK’s leading geotechnical specialists delivering all aspects of underground and foundation engineering – from light residential foundations to deep piles and shafts.
Sarah went to Graveney School in Tooting where she achieved 12 GSCEs in total, 3 A* and 9 As. She then transferred to Wimbledon High School for Girls where she achieved 3 A levels in Psychology, Maths and Physics as well as a German AS level.
Whilst she was in the lower 6th she was inspired to consider engineering by one of her teachers who had been a Civil Engineer. As Sarah had always been very interested in buildings and is logical she felt that this might suit her but before making a decision she took advantage of opportunities which enabled her to learn more about engineering. Through the Engineering Education Scheme she did a 4 month project for Balfour Beatty designing a crossing for dormice. She also took part in a week long residential summer school at the University of Surrey run by Headstart EDT (http://www.etrust.org.uk/headstart/courses#SUR ) which gave her an understanding of the different types of engineering.
Sarah started at Warwick University in 2011 and in the summer of 2012 she spent 8 weeks working for Bachy on site at the London Gateway Port in Southend on Sea, Essex. Her role was to support the site engineers who were working on the diaphragm walls and assisting with record keeping and testing samples to ensure that the structure was safe and rigid. Although the placement was hard work, involving 12 hour days, Sarah really enjoyed the experience and she gained a lot of experience from working with a wide range of contractors. She found that she was working in a mainly male environment and with many people who were over 10 years older than her but this did not cause her problems as she found that she was treated with great respect
Her experience helped with a number of her modules at University and she found learning in a classroom is very different from what happens on site!
The following summer she worked for 12 weeks in the Bachy design office in Camberley. This time her role was to design piles for use as the foundation for buildings. As she hadn’t yet studied Geotechnical engineering in her course at University the staff at Bachy trained her and also showed her how to use the software. Sarah found this experience very different from working on site. This time she was working office hours and with the same people all summer - which gave her the opportunity to develop closer working relationships and taught her different communication skills.
Sarah feels that the Surrey Scholar Scheme has been really beneficial. The financial support has been helpful but she feels that the work experience has been even more valuable. This has benefitted her in a number of ways including when to ask for help and when to work out the solution for herself, She has also developed a network of contacts in the industry and started to build her reputation as well as having experience which will be useful on her cv. In addition she has developed an understanding of the companies systems and processes and started to gather evidence which she can use as part of her portfolio for Chartered Engineer status
Sarah’s advice to students who are still at school is to choose A levels in subjects that you enjoy and if you enjoy practical subjects consider studying at A level (Sarah regrets not signing Design and Technology). Engineering is very satisfying for people who are practical, logical and like seeing things from concept to end product.
She suggests that students considering studying engineering at University should look at the detail of the courses on offer and the proposed syllabus for each year. For those not sure about which branch of engineering then choose a course with General Engineering in the first year. When selecting a University go to the Open Days and ask how easy it is to swap courses – it may be easier to apply for a BEng and then change to M Eng. Her advice to girls is to ask what the male / female ratiois and listen to the response to their approach (the ratio on engineering courses is often 1 woman to 10 men).